September 4, 2015

A trio of us were driven straight from the Atlanta airport to Emory University for the Decatur Book Festival keynote. On stage were rising star Roxane Gay, author of the hit sensation Bad Feminist, and second-wave feminist Erica Jong, famous for her 1973 bestseller Fear of Flying. Before the keynote started, I chatted a bit with my new writerly pals.




Randa looked it up.


We discussed what Erica Jong might have to say about the way women of color have been treated in the feminist movement.






I’ve always believed in speaking up about uncomfortable subjects; I don’t think things will change unless more people do so. On the other hand, I’m emotionally averse to conflict. When I’ve spoken up, I’ve had to painfully break out of my comfort zone in order to do so. More often than not, I do my best to keep everyone happy, even if it’s not in my best interests.


Pretty quickly, I could see that Randa was cut from a different swath. For example:


Randa had refused to trade her comfort for another’s, but she’d done so in a kind manner, and both of them had emerged as winners—the woman lost the glare, Randa got to go about her business, and her Twitter followers got to participate in the event from wherever they were. Had it been me, I would’ve turned my phone off immediately, and apologized profusely. My way would’ve only benefited the woman behind me.

The keynote started off cordial enough. Roxane was intelligent and charming, Erica was earnest and filled with inspirational messages. At first. But then came the Q&A. Randa wasted no time getting to the point.











This is where it got sticky. The deeper they got into a discussion of racial tensions, the more the backgrounds of these two powerful writers became apparent, both their knowledge and lack thereof. Randa had opened a can of worms, which led to more difficult and challenging questions from audience members. She had given us permission to turn this discussion into more than just the ego stroking of a celebrated author.

For the next hour or so, we shifted in our seats, tense and transfixed. It felt like I was witnessing history, a dialogue I’d mostly been exposed to on the internet being brought forth into real life and vocalized by two important people.


Although nothing got resolved that night, many of us left with new questions to ponder. I left feeling inspired, nervous, frustrated, and alive. The seeds of change had been planted in my mind.

Throughout the festival weekend, that keynote conversation was the most talked-about subject, with a number of articles following, such as this and this.

This would have never been news had the topic not been brought up by Randa. When I first sat down, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to ask that first difficult question, but now I see the chasm between a moment of discomfort versus the greater good.


The difference is astounding.

44 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    The disgust and completely lack of respect third wave feminists show toward the women who made people lie Roxanne Gay possible is nauseating. Roxanne Gay has a history of shitting on older, white feminists. Erica Jong can’t be blamed for speaking her own language and her own truth. She mentioned the many women of color she knows were involved in the movement she helped create and Roxanne Gay did nothing to contradict her or prove her wrong.

    • A Non E. Moose

      So what, then, of first- and second-wave feminists and their attitudes towards men? Should we call them nauseating and disrespectful? No one is untouchable. Feminist criticism is what it is, and it applies to all equally. If we are exempting from criticism anyone who ever did something for women from any further criticism, we cripple feminism entirely. Telling a younger generation to shut up and mind their elders without question? Now THAT is disrespectful and nauseating.

    • YC

      I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak to what was discussed, but this Flavorwire article seems to have a good response to the latter part of your comment: “Jong, of course, misunderstands the criticism Gay has just paraphrased: the issue isn’t whether women of color have contributed to feminism, but the degree to which those contributions have been erased from the movement’s narrative and historically excluded from its organized efforts. Ironically, Jong ends up illustrating Gay’s point for her when she (falsely) claims ‘people didn’t know about’ Sojourner Truth before Gloria Steinem, apparently unaware of who she’s implying constitute the ‘people.’ ”

      Also, for the record, it’s Roxane with one N.

      • Sally forth

        Actually the deafness of Roxanne is hate.

        Its funny that out of all the evils in the world black feminism is a brand based on making white feminism a curse word. While they argue that you can’t judge say Muslims with one negative paint brush or use the word Muslim as a sneer…white feminists are all the same and the word white feminism can never be used without a sneer. They among all groups in the world are all the same and all evil. This is a part of gay’s brand. White girls approaching feminism learn that what they are is to be sneered at. Unlike any other group in the world. To be white is to be sneered at and add feminist and you are worse and all the same unlike any other group. It smacks of a particular hatred to white women that you can’t even recognize a old white feminist telling you that black women were involved in 1970s feminsm. You know someone that was there. A devout patriarch would have gotten more respect.

    • Rose

      white feminists have a history of “shitting on” women of color. case in point, you Stephanie.

    • Elliott Mason

      No, but Erica Jong can 100% be held responsible if her idea of activism and feminism has not advanced since 1990, or even earlier.

      Fossils are not radical. John Paul II was a firebreathing radical in his youth, but he fossilized in his activism, and he died a horrifying reactionary who held poisonously harmful views. Erica Jong and others of her generation have a foot or two on that road, and will continue walking down it if they don’t wake up, listen, and grow.

    • bad feminist

      Roxanne gay will be remembered as a great hypocrite. While she claims “bad feminist” for herself like dr. Evil with her little pinkie in her mouth, she hates on other feminists for being “bad feminists”.

      Hate doesn’t age well and she is the 1950s exclusive feminist.

  2. M. Roberts

    A nitpicky reaction to a small part rather than the overall message of your piece, but I really don’t see what is gained taking a little time to reflect on what one’s just witnessed as one walks home, and then tweeting about it a little bit later in the day, rather than firing off instantaneous blurbs that one has not had the time to think about before sending permanently into the public sphere. It actually detracts from the observer’s attention to what that person is tweeting about (since that person’s nose is half in their phone rather than fully absorbing the event the person is attempting to report on).

    No disrespect to Randa or anyone else involved intended.

    • The Moose

      Why don’t you let people decide whether they want to live tweet? Live tweeting is a different form of communicating than your proposed alternative, and a person is allowed to listen and/or participate and/or externalize such an experience without your dictates.

      • lurkingaround

        M. Roberts didn’t provide a dictate, but asked a reasonable question and provided a reasonable perspective. What the instantaneous feedback loop of social media does and does not provide in terms of a starting point for cultural conversation is something worth asking ourselves, although, as M. Roberts admits, it’s not really the point of the article.

  3. Phyllis Lamken

    Feminism has always included women of color. My favorite being Sojourner Truth. I am sure you are familiar with this speech, but it is awesome. It isn’t up to Erica Jong to express the feminism of Roxanne Gay. It is up to Roxanne Gay to be her own kind of feminist. Feminism isn’t this institutionalized group where everyone gets cards and vote on a party platform. Feminism is a cultural and political movement. I am a life long feminist, but I don’t belong to NOW. Does Roxanne Gay represent the feminists of Isalm. I doubt it. But Nawal El Saadawi does. I really hate the term “white feminism.” If you think feminism is only white upper class women, you just don’t know your feminist history.

    • Eve Bower

      I have heard a lot of critiques of “white feminism,” but none of them have minimized the contributions of women of color–and that is precisely the point Erica Jong missed Friday night. When people complain about “white feminism,” they are often complaining about a set of priorities that has long privileged the voices of a narrow group of people: straight, white, well-educated, cisgender, high-income, non-disabled women. Even worse, the people who have championed these causes to the exclusion of others’ needs have often done so in a way that actively silences and discredits the views of other feminists. Are all the proponents of “white feminism” white women? No, but an overwhelming majority are. Are all white feminists proponents of “white feminism”? No. But failing to understand the concept itself puts people perilously close to it…

  4. Madelenne Sarr

    I’m a 23 year old Congolese American cis, able-body, in debt, lesbian and I’m angry. I don’t know who Erica Jong is. I don’t know what you expect from some 73 yo white woman. I don’t expect much. As a black woman I do expect something from other black women and I’m sorely disappointed. None of these academics, teachers, professors, writers seem to know anything about the real world about being black and poor in the real world. Neither Erica Jong or Roxane Gay speak to me or for me. I follow Roxane Gay but her ‘try not buy catchy rap music’ and criticizing ‘Dear Fat People’ in the morning then using ‘Heffer’ in the evening doesn’t click with me any longer. #BlackLivesMatter, ya but only American black lives it seems as Roxane and her kind rush out to buy pink iphones all the while complaining about the high price when the price is maybe 1/10 of what it should be if Apple paid their off-shore workers a living wage. Those phones are made with metal from the République démocratique du Congo off the backs of black slaves, yes slaves under rapists warlords. All these rich women black and white fighting each other. Erica Jong is clueless and Roxane Gay sanctimoniously retweeting posts like this one. It’s all sickening. White women appropriating black culture. Black women mocking white women. Professional bloggers condemning misogynoir then praising so called Queen Bey as a feminist even as she sings “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” and makes her maid bow down in her video. My mother is a maid! My Congolese American mother has worked as a house cleaner and now as an office cleaner and has to worry about working alone at night and being in danger of harassment and sexual assault from her supervisors and being paid nothing. #BowDown in front of the mirror and take a good look at yourselves. What has Queen Bey and Jay-fucking-Z done to help us? I’m sick of all of them.
    I’m so sick of all the fighting and mockery
    Nicki Minaj vs Taylor Swift no wait Nicki and Taylor are now friends.
    Miley Cyrus vs Nicki Minaj
    Rihanna’s video showing an assault against another woman.
    Lady Gaga’s video with fucking Terry Richardson and R Kelly.
    Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian West and the Jenner sisters appropriating everything in sight.
    Maria Sharapova vs Serena Williams
    Grace Jones vs Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and Madonna
    Iggy Azalea vs Azealia Banks
    On and on.

    What’s the purpose of this cartoon?
    I don’t need more white women speaking up.
    Go head and mock and judge each other but the problem isn’t some old white woman writer. The real problem is power and wealth. The real problem is that 1%, people of all colors, control half of the world’s wealth. Blacks aren’t any better than whites it just happens that whites got control of the wealth first. That’ll be shown when all the #BlackLivesMatter American black people run out to buy the costly Congolese sourced pink iphones to they can live tweet from the next American black tragedy.
    All of you are just trying to sell more books and t-shirts.

    • Jen Wilson

      I like what you have to say because I think you’re right. All of this ‘fighting’ does nothing but distract us from the real problems that are not getting fixed.

    • Mel

      Thank you for your clarity Madelenne! This is is one of the best reply comments I have read to anything in a LONG time…

  5. Doug

    you may hate that this comment comes from a white hetero male over 50 but, I found your post to be one of the best things I’ve read on the subject. On point, cuts to the heart, inspirational. Made rethink many things. Awesome.

  6. Maria

    I wish it wasn’t true but that Roxane Gay Panel saying POC don’t have a problem with racism is one of the most blatantly disingenuous statements I’ve seen in a while, the smug look makes it even funnier.

    I’ve heard too many Latin@, Asian, and Black friends and family stereotype and make generally racist statements about each other far too often unfortunately. It’s often the older generation, which lets it be written off as being outdated or the era they were raised in but I’ve come to think lately it’s often that it’s more latent inclinations/thoughts that build up over time.

    • MariNaomi

      That’s a good point–but perhaps I shouldn’t have added this quote out of context. They were specifically talking about inclusion of WoC in the feminist movement, not whether or not PoC can be racist (which certainly happens).

  7. Fear Of Dying | Chamblee54

    […] PG is only 27 pages shy of the end. This is due day at the library, so that may be that. (Roxane Gay might have a different opinion.) FOD is about wealthy Jewish women that get old. Her parents and […]


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